In Saskatchewan, The Legal Profession Act,1990 was amended in 2014 to include firms as members of the Law Society. Under the Act, one of the duties of the Law Society is to protect the public by assuring the integrity, knowledge, skill, proficiency and competence of members. A proactive approach through firm regulation allows both law firms and the Law Society to:
The Benchers of the Law Society of Saskatchewan approved, in principle, the necessary framework for the implementation of proactive firm regulation and approved the creation of the Firm Regulation Committee in December 2018 as the body responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of framework to support proactive law firm regulation. On January 1, 2020, after much hard work, Firm Regulation Rules were officially brought into effect as Part 9 of the Law Society Rules.
What does this mean for firms?
1. Firm Registration & Appointing a Designated Representative
A primary contact person in each firm will receive an email asking them to confirm information about the firm and to appoint a Designated Representative (“DR”). The DR acts as the point person or liaison for the firm and is responsible for all communications on behalf of the firm with the Law Society. The DR is also responsible for completing the Assessment Tool and Annual Report with support from others within the firm, as needed. There are more communications upcoming on this and information specific to the DR will be available early in the new year, so keep an eye out for those communications coming soon.
2. Assessment Tool
Based on feedback from the pilot project, the Assessment Tool is undergoing improvements and an online version is in development. In moving the Assessment Tool and proactive firm regulation forward, we know, based on the feedback we received and have incorporated, firms will experience and appreciate the value of the Assessment Tool. The implementation of the Assessment Tool will be gradual in nature and it will be rolled out over three years. In most cases firms will only be required to complete the tool once every three years. Further information on the roll out of the Assessment Tool will be provided periodically in the upcoming months.
3. The Annual Report
Most firms will be familiar with the TA-3 which is filed with the Law Society in accordance with the firm’s year end, which in most cases is December 31st. The Annual Report is not another document the firm is being asked to file, rather the TA-3 will be amalgamated into and renamed as the Annual Report. For firms without trust accounts, they will also be required to file an Annual Report unique to them. Firms will be required to file an Annual Report for year-end 2020. More information will be made available in the upcoming months.
The Prairie Law Societies conducted a pilot project in 2017 to test a new resource that would help firms assess the robustness of their practice management systems and firm culture. The Law Firm Practice Management Assessment Tool (the “Assessment Tool”) helps a firm recognize its strengths and provides things to consider where opportunities for improvement are identified.
The expected outcomes of the pilot project were to (1) to test the functionality of the Assessment Tool, and (2) to determine how the Assessment Tool could be used collaboratively between firms and the Law Society to ensure sound practice management systems are in place. Pilot Project participants were identified by randomly selecting firms of various sizes throughout the province so to provide a representative sample of Saskatchewan firms. Those firms were invited to voluntarily participate in the Pilot Project. Ultimately, 22 Saskatchewan firms participated. A similar process was followed in Alberta and Manitoba.
Participating firms were asked to designate a representative who would be the point person for the Pilot Project. The designated representative’s task was to ensure the firm undertook the self-assessment process using the Assessment Tool. The designated representative was asked to do the following:
The Assessment Tool places a focus on the firm as a whole as the systems, norms, and culture of a firm greatly influence conduct and overall practice of its lawyers. By design, the Assessment Tool is intended as a self evaluation mechanism as well as a convenient source of best practice resources. The content of the Assessment Tool is designed to help firms examine ways to best serve their clients, their lawyers, and their employees. This, in effect, fosters public protection through ethical, efficient practice and good business practices.
The ultimate goal of this project was to foster a more collaborative relationship between the Law Society and its members, including firms, and to help lawyers and firms manage risk so that the likelihood of conduct leading to a complaint or negligence is minimized. The feedback received from the Pilot was extremely informative and crucial to the determinations the Benchers have made about the assessment process. Overall, the feedback about the Assessment Tool was positive but there were aspects of the Assessment Tool and the overall assessment process that required some fine-tuning. The Prairie Law Societies worked together to develop a final regulatory framework and to refine the Assessment Tool based on the feedback received from the pilot project participants.
Members of the following Saskatchewan law firms volunteered to develop resources for the project: